This is the second memoir by a basketball coach that I read over the long Thanksgiving weekend and it lived up to what I hoped it would be - as entertaining and fast-paced as this coach's basketball philosophy. Here is my review of Paul Westhead's memoir, "The Speed Game."
“The Speed Game: My Fast Times in Basketball" by Paul Westhead
Basketball, professional, college, memoir, Lakers, Loyola Marymount, Mercury
November 1, 2020
5 of 5 stars (excellent)
When basketball fans, players and journalists mention the name Paul Westhead, the immediate thought is fast paced, fast break basketball. That was the type of game he would coach to his players, no matter who may have agreed or whatever the cost (namely his job) might eventually be. This is the overall theme of his memoir which reads much like his basketball style – quick and entertaining.
The bulk of this book is dedicated to his time coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. Both the beginning and the end of his time as head coach of the Lakers was unusual. He was an assistant coach under Jack McKinney when the latter suffered a near-fatal injury in a bicycle accident. Westhead was given the job on an interim basis, with that tag being lifted when the Lakers won the NBA championship the following spring in 1980. However, after a humiliating loss to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs in 1981 plus a slow start to the next season, Westhead was fired when Magic Johnson made certain remarks to the press about Westhead's system.
As he continually states throughout the book, that didn't change his coaching philosophy as he still sold his fast break system to get coaching jobs. He not only coached elsewhere in the NBA (Denver Nuggets) but also had several college coaching jobs, the most famous of these being at Loyola Marymount University in California. Here, he brought in two transfer players, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble (both Philadelphia natives like Westhead) who ran the system to near perfection. They set many NCAA records that very likely won't be broken. Their magical run ended tragically when Gathers collapsed and later died during a NCAA Tournament game due to a heart condition.
The last notable accomplishment for Westhead and his fast break system was when he coached the Phoenix Mercury, led by Diana Taurasi, to the WNBA championship. By doing so, he is the only coach to win both an NBA and WNBA championship. Westhead doesn't devote much space in the book to this accomplishment, and compared to how much he wrote about the Lakers, the same could be said for his time at Loyola Marymount as that was only one chapter. Nonetheless, the reader will gain great insight into Westhead's coaching philosophy and why he believes the fast break system is the best basketball system despite the skepticism of many and also his occasional lack of success with it, as evidenced by his poor record with the Nuggets. If one was or is a fan of his style, then this book is one to read.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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